SIGNIFICANTLY, THE Kamloops residential school is located at the heart of the Kamloops Reserve itself — a fact that is never reported by Aboriginal spokespersons or the media. The TRC report states that “schools were virtually all church-run in the early years of the system [and] Christian burial was the norm at most schools.” Also, the adjoining church cemetery “may be used as a burial ground for students who die at the school as well as for members of the local community and the missionaries themselves.” This is what happened in Kamloops. Our research shows that four students are buried in the Band cemetery on the reserve that is located near St. Joseph’s Church, not far from the residential school.
With the cemetery so close by, is it really credible that the remains of 200 children were buried clandestinely in a mass grave, on the reserve itself, without any reaction from the band council until last summer? Chief Casimir states that the presence of children’s remains had been “known” in the community for a long time. Aboriginal families are certainly as concerned about the fate of their children as any other community; why did they say nothing? Moreover, how can one think that entire groups of religious men and women dedicated to high moral standards could conspire to commit such sordid crimes without dissent and not even a single whistleblower?
“With the Kamloops Reserve cemetery close by, is it really credible that the remains of 200 children were buried clandestinely — on the reserve itself — without any reaction from the band council until last summer?”
The school is also close to the City of Kamloops. Agents of the Department of Indian Affairs, closely monitoring school operations, would have responded quickly to news of any missing or deceased children – if there had been any. Finally, as we have seen, the province required the completion of a death certificate for all deceased persons. At the turn of the twentieth century, British Columbia was not the wild west. A researcher today wishing to obtain the death certificate of any child attending the Kamloops residential school, can get it by entering the name and date of death on the the British Columbia Genealogical Records website. This type of research is also possible in other provinces.
Let us conclude with a side-note on another “nameless burial” site near a residential school, that of the Cowessess (Marieval) First Nation in Saskatchewan, which created more shock waves last June after the announcement in Kamloops. Operating since 1899 in a remote area, it was run by the Oblates and the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Hyacinthe. The surface search by georadar is more advanced there as 751 well laid out graves have been discovered. As shown by a CBC News reporter, this is in fact simply the Catholic cemetery of the Mission of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Marieval.
According to the register of baptisms, marriages and burials from 1885 to 1933, there are certainly graves present on site of children who died at the residential school, but also those of many adults and children under five years of age from the surrounding area. “There was a mixture of everyone in that graveyard, in that cemetery,” said local resident Pearl Lerat and her sister, Linda Whiteman, who attended Marieval residential school from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s. Pearl said “the sisters’ parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are buried there along with others from outside the First Nation,” whites and natives together. According to other residents living nearby, the graves had crosses and headstones until the 1960s when a priest allegedly removed them because the cemetery was in “terrible shape.”
According to historian Jim Miller of the University of Saskatchewan, “the remains of children discovered in Marieval and Kamloops had been buried in cemeteries according to Catholic rites, under wooden crosses that quickly crumbled.” “The wooden cross was a Catholic burial marker for the poor,” confirms Brian Gettler of the University of Toronto. The residential school cemeteries with their wooden crosses probably look like the present St. Joseph’s Native Cemetery on the Kamloops Reserve (see photo).
According to the TRC report, the churchyard often served as a place of worship and burial for students who died at school as well as for members of the local community and the missionaries themselves. As residential school cemeteries have been abandoned, neglected, and even forgotten after their closure, they have blurred into the background. In many cases, they became difficult to locate or were used for other purposes. The Commission rightly proposed that they be documented, maintained, and protected.
It is hard to believe that a preliminary search for an alleged cemetery or mass grave in an apple orchard on reserve land near the residential school of Kamloops could have led to such a spiral of claims endorsed by the Canadian government and repeated by mass media all over the world. It gives a terrible and simplistic impression of complex issues in Canadian history. The exhumations have not yet begun and no remains have obviously been found. Imaginary stories and emotion have outweighed the pursuit of truth. On the road to reconciliation, isn’t the best way to seek and tell the whole truth rather than deliberately create sensational myths?
Information Liberation: http://www.informationliberation.com/?id=62823